The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov
by Denise Levertov Edited by Paul A. Lacey
Reviewed by Larry Smith | Released: November 13, 2013
Publisher: New Directions (1064 pages)
- Born in Essex, England in 1923, and having lived for brief periods in Holland, France, Italy, Mexico, and most of her adult life in the United States, Denise Levertov viewed herself as “a trans-Atlantic poet.”
Her final years (1991–1997) spent in Seattle, Washington, reminiscent of her childhood home, gave her a stunning view of Lake Washington and Mount Rainier. Her life work which included three books of essays and memoirs and the 20 books of poetry collected in this huge volume is her own mountain of work. From its vantage the dedicated reader can now view her panorama of her achievement as one of the main figures of 20th century poetry.
Such prolific writing came natural to her, as she declared in “The Cloak:”
And I walked naked
from the beginning
arrogant in innocence.
The sheer range and volume of this work, revealing a book about every two years of her adult life, requires a journey for the reader, one best made with an accompanying biography or chronology of the poet’s life.
Fortunately two biographies appeared last year: Dana Green’s Denise Levertov: A Poet's Life and Donna Krolik Hollenbert’s A Poet's Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov. The former is more readable, the latter more comprehensive.
The very comprehensiveness of this new collection begs the question of audience intent. Certainly this book should be in all libraries of contemporary poetry, and clearly for the avid reader of poetry it too is a must. This reviewer approached it a book a day with accompanying biography reference over a period of a month.
Evan Boland’s introduction identifies “Levertov’s signature way—that is, from headlong syntax and conversational wildfire” and praises how “she emerges from these pages as the maker of a fluid, mercurial lyric that is often breathtaking. She also emerges as a hero of the ethical imagination.”
The poems in this book do not repeat but continue to explore personal and mythical depths while also engaging in pressing social issues of peace and justice. One finds telling images of animal presence and the beauty and wisdom of nature placed next to poems that witness the human waste of life. Her wonderfully sonic verse ranges from lyric wonder to direct confrontation. Thus was her life—consciousness and conscience—and thus is her verse.
(See the rest of the review at New York Journal of Books....
Causes Larry Smith Supports
peace and justice, meditation